Snow determines the success of a ski season. A forecast from the Farmers Almanac promising a snowy PNW winter gets ski enthusiasts, like me, buzzing. It’s what makes us rush to buy our passes and enter the PNW Platinum Powder Pass sweepstakes. A snowy winter in the Pacific Northwest is a dream! But is the Farmers Almanac reliable?
Recently, KOIN TV featured the NOAA forecast: a “moderate to strong El Niño” this winter, ending three consecutive La Niña seasons. The Oceanic Niño Index (ONI) by NOAA classifies these as warm (El Niño) and cool (La Niña) events. Generally, La Niña means wetter, colder winters, while El Niño suggests wetter yet warmer conditions. So, does this spell doom for snow lovers?
Before we panic, let’s dive into the snow pile. I explored snowfall data at Government Camp, Oregon, dating back to 1951-52. Fun fact: Government Camp averages over 21 feet of snow each year! While ski areas in the PNW get even more (like Mt. Hood Meadows with a seasonal average of 430 inches), Government Camp’s data offers a reliable baseline.
I paired this with the ONI indexes from GGWeather.com for the same period. With a bit of AI magic from ChatGPT, I had a merged table, tracking snowfall against ONI conditions. After some tweaks and filters, here’s what I found:
From 1951-52, there were twelve El Niño seasons (seven moderate and five strong). These seasons averaged 7.2 inches more than the general season average.
Eight out of these twelve were above average in snowfall.
The record? 1963-64 saw a massive 522.5 inches of snow during a moderate El Niño.
A few outliers like 1994-95, 1991-92, and 1957-58 were more than 100 inches off the average.
My assessment: El Niño seasons come with their share of unpredictability. And while climate changes might shake things up, history suggests a hopeful outlook. So, if I’m placing bets, I’d wager on the PNW dishing out an above-average snow season. Moderate to strong El Niños, historically, have not disappointed snow lovers. Fingers crossed!
I fed the data back into AI and asked for a prediction about the upcoming season.
Given that NOAA is forecasting a moderate to strong El Niño for this winter, I’d expect this season’s snowfall to be close to the average for those respective categories. Taking a midpoint between the two averages (288.6 for Moderate and 261.25 for Strong), the expected snowfall is around 274.9 inches.
However, taking into account the general trend in recent years and considering potential influences of other climate factors, let’s round it off.
Final Snowfall Estimate for Government Camp, OR for 2023-24:
Approximately 275 inches.
AI disclaimer: It’s worth noting that many external factors, including broader climatic shifts, can influence seasonal snowfall, so while historical data gives us a guideline, it can’t guarantee future results. Always be sure to check up-to-date forecasts and predictions from multiple sources.
And, as always, “Technology is nothing without Humanity.”